Week 13 NFL Picks Against the Spread, Some Notes on Picking Games, and a Look at Some of This Blog’s Picks

Record last week: 4-3. Season history to date: Week 11 (4-2-1). Week 10 (3-3). Week 9 (3-3). “Debacle” week 8  3-5 ) Week 7 (2-1: Also picked the rest of the games straight up that first week (going 9-3) – though everybody does that, and it’s easier to do, so have skipped it since.)

Below are week 13’s picks against the spread. Update: It’s Sunday Morning before the rest of the games, and by later (and foolishly) adding in the San Francisco Seattle game as a pick, this blog went 1-2 so far this week against the spread.

It was the spirit of Thanksgiving and all, trying to hit all the games; and also in honor of the fantastic rivalry between the Seahawks and 49ers. But my apologies for throwing in a pick on a game in which, frankly, I didn’t have much of a clue.

This blog did hit a whopper of a bad pick on Chicago, but it was a reasoned pick. It increasingly seems the case under head coach Marc Trestman that the Bears don’t play with sufficient passion and energy when needed. For if ever there was a game this season where they had a chance to redeem themselves, as well as keep their season alive, it was at their rival and division leader Detroit this last week. (Also see update below on Trestman’s wildly Pollyannaish half time comments to sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson.)

Now the Bears face Dallas (next week), so they’re perhaps finally ready to let it all hang out, or their claims they “haven’t given up” are probably tepid. I have no pick on that game. I’m always wrong on the Bears. But hey, this is a blog, and if forced, until they do show that passion that should have come last week, here’s the pick for next week: Dallas. (Though do recall that Dallas typically falls apart in late November and December, so this ought to be a good one.)

As always, the following picks, Dallas included, are only for the purposes of raising funds in Nevada in order to fly over sacks of rice (as well as seeds, some irrigation tools, and maybe some rain clouds) to some of the poorer, starving parts of the world, and bragging rights.

Bears (+7) at Lions

As always when these two teams play, the only thing missing from the full Wizard of Oz trifecta of “Lions and TIgers and Bears” are the Tigers. (Who are also a Detroit team – but they hit balls with bats.)

As has been the case for years now one way or another when these two teams play, the other thing missing is at least one good football team: The Bears this year have pretty clearly established that they aren’t one. (Although, after managing to be the first NFL team since the 1623 Plymouthsville Leviathans (okay, actually it was the 1923 Rochester Jeffersons, but what’s the difference) to give up 50+ points two games in a row, they are now coming off of two wins in row; as they came back from early deficits to defeat both Minnesota and Tampa Bay – two poor teams – the past two weeks.

While the Lions, while also establishing that they can’t hang with the likes of the Patriots in New England (but right at this moment very few teams can), have established that they are otherwise a good team.

It would be iffy picking the Bears here, since they have repeatedly shown that when it matters, if they are up to a test, they don’t play that well. (Update: Very iffy.) Maybe they’ll extend that pattern to all but last chance division match-ups as well, and get beaten solidly. (Update: Bingo!) But the team from Chicago can redeem their season, and kind of stay in it – and in front of a national Thanksgiving day audience – if they can beat the Lions here today.

It’s not clear that so far under second year head coach Marc Trestman that they’ve been that kind of team; but here’s somewhat hopelessly suggesting that this Thanksgiving day, they are, and it’s a good game. They’ve certainly been gift wrapped an opportunity to finally play with some passion or pizzazz.

Update: It’s increasingly clear the Bears are not that kind of team, as they were easily beaten 34-17. And when queried by sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson at halftime, Bears head coach Marc Trestman talked about how “penalties hurt them.”

Say what? Penalties did’t hurt them. Despite starting out strong, and then stripping the ball away from quarterback Matt Stafford and recovering it on the Detroit 5 yard line for an easy score and a 14-3 lead, the Bears still got dramatically outplayed in the first half, as they gave up a whopping 8.2 yards per play average. And Trestman is talking about penalties?

The Penalties had very little to do with it. So boilerplate babble to a reporter or not, how Trestman could even think to mention this, let alone think it, is telling. It’s one thing for a Bears fan to possibly complain about penalties, but when your team is getting dramatically outplayed, as head coach, it probably shouldn’t be brought up as a key consideration for the first half – particularly when it wasn’t a key consideration for that half.

Pick: Bears (Update: As I noted in picks weeks back “I’m always wrong on the Bears. I still however stand by this pick after the fact.  That was the Bears game to make a statement. They made one all right: confirming that right now they aren’t very good, and possibly don’t know how to capture or channel enough passion – as the energy with which they started out this near playoff like game seemed to soon dissipate.)

Eagles (+3.5) at Cowboys

I’ve been a Mark Sanchez fan since his rookie season, as he has been excessively and overly criticized for his play, and played for a team (the Jets) that over achieved his first few years and tended to have a lesser offense and weaker wide receiver depth than many other teams, for which Sanchez often tried to over compensate. But he is also a wild card, since while he can play clutch, and has a solid lifetime winning percentage, it is also true he can throw some pretty bad picks, and has certainly thrown his share of them, to say the least.

But it’s late November, and while this season has shown some signs of being different, it is time for the Cowboys to put up. Not saying I’m not rooting for America’s team here, but until the team from Dallas wins some key games when it starts to become crunch time (although what might save them is that it’s not really crunch time yet) – in a tough division match-up against a still solid football team in the Eagles, as trivial as a few points are, in this game go with them, as it could turn into a closely fought divisional battle.

You never know. It’s certainly the second of two three very good Thanksgiving day NFL football games: All have key divisional and even conference implications. And the first two in particular also serve as apt referendums on the respective teams. Particularly the Bears. (Though one could argue that referendum has already been had. But in the NFL, there’s always another week, so we’ll see.)

While it’s hard to see the Cowboys being weak enough to have gone into Green Bay and pasted as the Eagles did in week 11,

Pick: Eagles

Seahawks (+1.5) at 49ers

Over the last three weeks, according to CBS’Jason La Canfora, only four players have more rushing yards than a guy who throws the football for a living: Seattle Quarterback Russell Wilson. Need one say more?

Probably not. But last year Seattle won a close NFC Championship game over the 49ers to go to the Super Bowl. This year both teams are missing players. This is San Francisco’s chance to avenge that game, and possibly set themselves up to get into the postseason. Can they?

Wilson is tough to beat in close football games, and this one stands a good chance of being close. And the 49ers are either a team that is slowly slipping or trying to see if they can’t stay among the best of the best for one last season at least (rumors of their head coach departing or not) and take another shot at that post season after three successive NFC conference championship games. Here’s to the idea that the 49ers are still hungry, and can find a way to back it up:

Pick:  49ers

Update: That was just an awful pick. Something felt queasy about it.  The Seahawks, despite their occasional wrecking ball dismantling of the 49ers in Seattle a couple of times over the past few years (but not in the NFC Championship game last year, where it was a close battle), had not beaten the 49ers in San Francisco since 2008.

But, this season the 49ers are playing in a new stadium and regional locale. Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, next to San Jose.  Several local fans have suggested a different, more reserved, perhaps even less “blue collar” fan has been going to the games, and that the energy in the stadium simply has not been there. True or not, in their new, not really “San Francisco” digs, the 49ers have not played as well. With Seattle needing a win badly, San Francisco not up to full form (or even player strength), and this new “not yet really home” stadium, for a close rivalry to have gone this long without Seattle winning over there, this seemed like the right opening to finally end that little bit of imbalance. (That would have been a nice analysis on Thursday, before the game, huh.)

This week is a tricky one for picks as well. To start it off, we’ll toss out an “upset” pick. This blog has only tried to “call”a few upsets in advance. Each one has (somewhat luckily) come through. The awful Jaguars “unexpected” upset of the Browns back in week 7. And the Jew York Jets convincing win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In that same week 10 I also wrote, referring to the Chiefs (at the Bills), Dolphins (at the Lions), and 49ers (at the Saints) “That’s just 3 picks. For bragging rights, that’s all you need. You’d be 4-0 after this weekend had I gotten that Browns game in. (The most likely letdown of the 3, incidentally, is the Detroit game. That’s a tough game.)”

And the Detroit game was the letdown, as it turned out. (Ironic, because I also picked Detroit (-3) wrong in week 8 versus Atlanta, writing: “If the Falcons play tough, but the Lions pull out a close one, I’ll give Caldwell credit, and shoulder all the blame for this pick.” The Falcons did play tough, but Detroit staged a strong comeback, and did pulled out a close one. By 1 point.)

Miami was +3, and led Detroit by 3 (so up by 6 for picking purposes) with a few minutes to go. But the Lions marched the field for a full TD (the Dolphins couldn’t even hold them to a field goal and a tie), and a 4 point win, so those “four” picks wound up at 3-1. (To be fair, the Bills actually outplayed the Chiefs overall, but not at the end, so that pick was more luck than anything.)

I came close to calling the Oakland over Chiefs upset, saying the game “smelled of one,” “San Francisco might end the Saints home winning streak this week as well”;and on the Bengals visit to 7.5 favorite New Orleans, wrote If there is going to be an upset pick, this is it. And the Saints, so dominant at home, lose their 2nd straight here.”

So while the ATS record here has been pretty piddling (hair above .500), on those few games that have jumped out, it’s (so far at least) been another story.

Before making picks here, I tweeted out one prediction, the Chargers upset of the Seahawks in week 2. (Which at the time no one on the major networks saw coming) and one pseudo prediction, tweeting “Ok, I’m gonna  say it, the Jets are gonna put up a good battle against the Patriots tonight.” Awful misspelling of the New England team’s name and all. (Those were my only pre-football tweet calls so far. Both are captured at the top of the page here – and, side note: I need to get that picture changed, its ruining tweet links: I normally smile. And unless enlarged, that picture looks ridiculous. (Usually it’s the other way around with pictures, right?) As 9.5 point underdogs, the Jets outplayed the Patriots – who have been on a bit of a rampage since – but managed to lose 27-25.)

So in keeping with the San Diego flow, and just to make a bold prediction, here’s an upset for this week. Chargers win. (Really, as 6.5 underdogs, and the Ravens home record and their tendency to play tough late, it’s hard to say that the Chargers really are likely to actually beat the Ravens. But I’m picking them to do it.)

Chargers (+6.5) at Baltimore.

Here’s a little tip. If you really know football, you can question spreads. Otherwise, when spreads look bizarre, pick the opposite team from the one you think you should. There’s usually a reason that spread is like that.

If you know the hidden reasons, and have strong reason to disagree (or know it’s just to balance out misplaced public perception of the teams), then it’s a different story.

In all humbleness, the fact that the 49ers weren’t favored by 3 against the Seahawks was if anything an example of the former for me. I wasn’t wired in enough to know if that was just a perception thing, or there was knowledge behind the fact that San Francisco wasn’t getting the traditional 3 points at home in a somewhat equal match-up. And it was part of my uneasy feeling. In other words, on that San Francisco – Seattle pick, I was flying dark, and when doing so, don’t be allured by numbers. I didn’t question the spread here, but also somewhat ignored it.

So far this season, every time I have really questioned the spread on here (and there have been numerous instances) the team I picked covered easily, and usually won the game outright.

The only one missing is the Browns at the Bengals in that aforementioned Thursday Night Football win, which I thought was an abomination at 6 points, as I thought the Browns were going to go into Cincinnati after years of being second tier, playing with heart all season, and now having their “moment,” and play lights out, and the Bengals had been faltering somewhat. (They’ve since righted it a little bit.  And that the game was truly a “pick ’em.” Whether it was luck or just a great call that the Browns went in and played one of their best football games in 15 years is hard to say. Probably some of both.)

So, I question the Ravens – Chargers spread.  Baltimore did defeat the Saints, in New Orleans. And yes that is hard to do. (But three teams in a row have now done it.) They also had over 500 yards put up on them.  And they are coming off an emotional Monday Night Victory.

Yes the Chargers have fallen. They have typically played well late in the season under quarterback Philip Rivers, but instead they have been reeling. They have also lost a remarkable three centers now for the season (so in essence are down to 4th string at this key position). The Chargers also seemed to squeak by the Raiders and Rams, a poor, then middling team. But Oakland may not be so awful any more, and the Rams, as speculated upon in last week’s picks, show that they may finally be turning that corner they’ve several times showed signs of doing. (Curiously these same exact two teams play each other this week, making the pick difficult.)

Teams traveling from the West Coast to the East Coast often have a hard time. It’s a lot of travel, while their opponents are just chilling out at home. And they are playing a game that for them, is, effectively, at 10 A.M. They’re not really tuned up in terms of habit for that.

But the Chargers have come to the East Coast and upset good teams before. And the Ravens are good, not great. Both teams are in difficult divisions, and this game could wind up determining a tie breaker between the two teams (or more) in terms of who makes it to the playoffs. It’s a real game, and there will be no lag on the Chargers part unless they really have fallen to their same sort of semi decent middling status. We’ll know after the game. (Somewhat, since Baltimore has a say in this as well.)

But since the Chargers showed what they can do late last season, and again earlier this season before they had a few injuries, benefit of the doubt goes to them until they show otherwise. This game should be a 3 point spread, and again, the Chargers might surprise and pull it out. And there’s probably a very good chance the Chargers do just that, or lose by 3 or 4 points.

Pick: Chargers

Browns (+3) at Bills

This is the match-up of match-ups. Non marquee teams, both of these franchises have been poor for so long, the rise above mediocrity, and the alte season meeting between the two with both trying to hang on for a shot to make the playoff, is a monumental, if not as noticed, moment in the real nitty gritty of true competition NFL football.

So, more pertinently, and less attempt at lame poetry. Who is going to win?
Great game, great match-up, tough call, but Bills.  Possibly.  It will certainly make things a little more interesting even in the AFC than they already are, if the Bills win. (Though it keeps things very interesting in the AFC North if the Browns win, particularly if the Steelers beat the Saints.)

Pick: Bills

Panthers (+2.5) at Vikings

2.5 points really isn’t much. Most teams, when they lose, lose by 3 or more. And the Vikings have shown some surprises here and there. (And played Green Bay tough last week.)

The question really is whether the Panthers can put it together and keep that super competitive NFC South still super competitive, with a lot of teams bunched up with losing records, but still for the division lead.  And a loss by the Falcons (playing the Cardinals, very possible), and the Saints (playing the Steelers, very possible) would allow the Panthers, with a win and catapult to a whopping 4-7-1 record, to leap into sole possession of first place

Here’s to wishful thinking and hoping that the Panthers have the same enthusiasm and zeal for this idea that I do, and play like it

Pick: Panthers

Cardinals (-2) at Falcons

Last I heard Larry Fitzgerald, getting in the twilight years of his career on the field but still butter smooth with his hands and a fierce competitor on the field, is playing. And while Atlanta is going to be desperate, and for most of the past half of a decade has been a tough home team (and also has a few tough close losses this season, including one against Cleveland last week 26-24 that they should have won, but seemingly mismanaged the clock at the end), this is Arizona. They get the props, even with Drew Stanton – who appears to be a significant drop off from Carson Palmer (as his past performances suggested) – in at quarterback.

Pick: Cardinals 

Saints (+4) at Steelers

The Saints sure aren’t getting respect in their point spreads any more. And for being an up and down team that has played some very poor games, and that hails from the division (AFC North) that has benefited from playing the two weakest divisions in football (the AFC South, and the division the Saints hail from, the NFC South) to Steelers sure continue to do so.

Nevertheless, ignoring the uneasy feeling that three home losses in a row will have this Saints team play like it is at home and then some

Pick: Steelers  Scratch that. This is just another, good, football game. The Saints, being from that NFC South and, while they lose on tie breakers right now, at 4-7 sit tied with the Atlanta Falcons for first place. One half game ahead of the 3-7-1 Carolina Panthers. (Who but for some “turtle up” playing not to lose type of play, might have beaten the Falcons in week 11, rather than lose 19-17.)

Titans (+7) at Texans

This is a strange game. The Titans stink. And they’ve done even worse than they should have after they made an ill advised off season head coaching switch from a guy who was doing a decent job with the team – Mike Munchak –  to one who despite some successes had a lifetime losing record as a head coach. And whom even I expected to have this Titans team playing better than they are.

And for that very reason took the Titans as 11 point underdogs at the Eagles in week 12, as one of this blog’s 3 wrong picks that week. And for that very reason (and possibly repeating the same mistake) am picking them here:   Despite the fact that the Texans are better than people think. And that with Ryan Fitzpatrick back in at quarterback, the game is a more of a wild card. Fitz over achieves, but he also goes on bad turnover runs (as part of that overachieving process perhaps), so it makes games, and even seasons, a bit more volatile. And for that reason the Titans could conceivably pull off the upset; while if Fitzpatrick plays well, get hammered.

Who knows with the Titans. I’m going to be pretend I do: The Texans are desperate for a win, and a good team. But the Titans should start to play better, and it is a division game.  I keep somewhat rooting  for them, and against my analysis that they made a mistake in switching to Ken Whisenhunt as head coach: After all, the decision is what it was at the time it was made, regardless of what happens after.

But still, it’d be nice if they saw something that showed higher potential than Whisenhunt’s losing record in Arizona, and didn’t make that offseason move just because Whisenhunt, on the backs of Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin (notice wherever this passionate and all out football player goes, teams win), and in particular Kurt Warner, brought them to a Super Bowl one year.)

Though no doubt Mike Munchak (currently offensive line coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers), feels a bit vindicated, this might be a time for the Titans to at least start to show that the move wasn’t a total abomination:

Pick: Titans, marginally

Giants -3) at Jaguars

It’s hard to imagine the Jaguars continuing to lose, and lose, and lose and lose, and lose.  After all, at least near the end of last season they turned into a real football team for a little while. And what do the Giants, used to winning Super Bowls under Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning, really have to play for against a team that Roger Goodell wants to banish – er, move – to London? This might be a foolish pick, since the Giants might not show up. But they are playing what is right now the worst team in the NFL so if they do show up (a big if) they are the better team:

Pick: Giants Strike that. Enjoy this as one of the few football games that don’t really matter in terms of how this season is unfolding; but is still really interesting nonetheless to see what these teams do, and their character.

Dolphins (-7) at Jets

The Dolphins seem to have arrived. And the Jets are falling apart. (Maybe in hindsight it wasn’t all Mark Sanchez’s fault.) After turning the ball over 6 times in a loss to Buffalo earlier in the season, they traveled to Detroit. (Along with Buffalo, escaping the clutches of a near 70 inch snow fall that is perfectly in line with the decades long call for “more intense and volatile precipitation patterns and events” that some media and climate confusion sources have remarkably turned into an outraged claim that climate change (since it was “cold,” and even though 2014 is on route to the warmest year globally on record) is a joke. And in Detroit, to redeem that six turnover loss to the Bills several weeks ago, the Jets played a bit more like a joke than Jets.

Losing 38-3. (Along with the rest of the games played so far, maybe this game vindicated my earlier call that unless the Jets had (prematurely?) decided that Geno Smith had no shot at being their guy or that (somehow) sitting him for a while would actually improve his play, the move to Michael Vick at quarterback wasn’t the big improvement or smooth move everyone seemed to take it for.)

Meanwhile, the Dolphins seemed to have finally arrived. And after giving up a 11 point 4th quarter lead and losing 39-36 to the still potentially monstrous Broncos last week (and where a deflected pass with 3:45 left to play was fortuitously picked off by the Broncos and returned 37 yards down to the Miami 8 yard line to set up what was ultimately a needed TD for the win), they need this game. Badly. Particularly since it is a divisional game.

Miami is not going to take the Jets for granted either. The only question is this: Are the Jets finally done, or are they going to play their Super Bowl in front of a national audience, and try to keep their rivals from the playoffs, and so at least marginally redeem their season?

I don’t know.  I’m usually partial to the Jets as underdogs with Rex Ryan as head coach, and in a divisional match-up, even if it is key for the Dolphins, and even if the Dolphins are a much better team right now, taking 7 points at home isn’t a bad move. Particularly when one really can’t say that the Dolphins are assuredly going to win this game. Even if, all season long, Miami has not been getting a lot of love from point spreads, while the Jets -keep getting treated like they are a better team than they really are.

Pick: Jets

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